We start this year's competition with crowd-favorite The Ocean's Pelagial going up against Misery Signals' latest album Absent Light. And for the second time in Arsies history, the tournament begins with a major upset.
After a slow start to the year, Pelagial was one of the earliest albums to emerge as an obvious contender for an Arsie in 2014. Despite their last overly ambitious and ultimately doomed double-album, The Ocean re-emerged from their creative chaos with their strongest effort in years, a concept album in which the concept is that the longer you listen, the deeper you sink into the sea. The entire album acts as one cohesive metaphor for a submerged life, right down to the aquatic production. If all that Pelagial had to offer was its framing device of tracks being sorted in order of increasing heaviness, it would still be a remarkable album. But then the quality of the music itself cements Pelagial as an instant classic: enduring motifs that get stuck in your head, as they gradually transform from ethereal to proggy to sledgehammer-heavy. It's clever, technical, innovative, thrashy, and even haunting.
An album that is both subtle and muscular is bound to be a tough act to follow. But remarkably, Misery Signals' Absent Light manages to be a perfect antidote to Pelagial. While The Ocean is straightforward and linear, Misery Signals is disjointed and spastic... and is a more interesting listen as a result. (The opener, Luminary, merely hints at the kitchen-sink approach.) The Ocean's simple concept is pummel by Misery Signal's oblique concept(s). The production values on Absent Light are downright bright when compared to Pelagial. Beyond all that, Misery Signal turns in far more interesting and surprising guitar work throughout the entire album. And fatally for The Ocean, Absent Light is undeniably the more dark and brutal album.
And so, despite my early-morning confidence to the contrary, Misery Signals snatches a seemingly preordained victory from The Ocean! They'll take on the victor of tomorrow's round: either Byzantine or Gorguts. Bleh!